"Your chemo treatments seem to be working."
For years this was the best progress report a cancer patient could hope to hear. Today, however, those reports contain much greater precision -- without the ambiguity. Today an oncologist can tell her patient, “There is a 20% drop in tracer concentration, so we are confident your treatment is working.” And that is what Bo Zhu (MIT ‘07) has been up to the past few years -- improving the degree of accuracy and confidence about biological happenings, boosting the morale of medical professionals and their patients.
Yet when Bo came to MIT in 2004, his immediate reasons for pursuing higher education did not include “making a great contribution to mankind.” Bo comments, “At the time, college was a fancy prize … you know, ‘I made it, so now it’s time to party.'”
Something happened during Bo’s undergrad years that drastically recalibrated his pursuits and motivations.
An Earnest Search for Meaning
When the party scene failed to deliver, leaving the freshman Electrical Engineering/Computer Science major with a “vacuum of purpose” a sense of “Now what?,” Bo began to question others’ definitions of “valuable” and “good” -- definitions he had previously gone along with. On campus, thrown in with an assortment of world views and causes, Bo began to see that some of these ideas conflicted. He also took a hard look at the influences in his own life.
But now Bo began to pay more attention to the spiritual and emotional side of things -- a quest to find core level truth. As a sophomore, Bo broadened his reading to include inspirational and motivational books.
Toying with the idea that religion might have something to offer, Bo questioned his frat brothers and classmates about their views of God and the big questions of life. Aditya, his Hindu roommate, evinced both spirituality and robust science in a way that struck Bo as non-contradictory, encouraging Bo to explore further.
One spring morning, walking through Stratton Student Center after class, something caught his eye -- A Case for Faith by Lee Stroebel, offered on a book table hosted by Cru. Bo stopped, intrigued by the title. Picking it up for a closer look, then flipping through the introduction and the chapter titles, Bo decided to take it - something to read on his Spring Break trip to New York ...
Stroebel’s book became another stepping stone in Bo’s quest, persuading him that faith doesn’t contradict reason. It can be defended upon intellectual grounds. But this wasn't enough to convert Bo. That required another book and another trip.
While Browsing a Bay Area Bookstore
In San Jose, CA, after cashing his first paycheck from his summer internship, Bo browsed the business section of a bookstore. Again, one of the titles piqued his interest. Pulling it off the shelf, Bo was immediately captivated by the first sentence, “It’s not about you. It’s about God and you.”
Rick Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life had been mis-shelved, divinely so it seemed. “I knew right away that the Holy Spirit was working. This book had wisdom, unlike other books that said ‘It is about you.’” Bo read the first chapter in the store, bought it, then read a chapter a day.
That summer truth searched out the far reaches of Bo’s heart … God spoke to the aspiring young scientist, and he gave his life to God.
“So much of what I saw in the world was very powerfully explained by sin. Institutions, organizations, individuals … all were made for something better, yet now are marred. CS Lewis calls this the ‘Glorious Ruins.’ I’d somehow known that if there was a God or Truth, the core would have to be love. Slowly I saw the God of the Christian faith, his love powerfully demonstrated by Christ.”
Feeling the warmth of God’s love throughout the summer, Bo’s inquiring mind devoured books on apologetics, the Church, historicity … “The more I read, the more my faith was confirmed.”
Discovering Christian Community on Campus
Returning to MIT for his junior year, Bo’s fraternity assisted with a Boston Neighborhood Restoration. MIT Cru co-leader Brian Myhre happened to volunteer there the same day. The two formed a fast bond, Brian having just returned from Cru’s Summer Project in Wildwood, NJ.
Brian told Bo, “At Wildwood, I waited tables in the morning and delivered business consulting projects in the afternoon -- it turned out to be the best professional experience of all my summer internships.” When Brian went on to tell Bo about sharing the gospel with guys on the Wildwood beach during the evenings, Bo casually mentioned, “Oh, I became a Christian this summer.”
Brian suggested they both read the book and discuss it together. Brian reflects, “In my experience, our barriers to Christianity as MIT students are more relational and emotional than intellectual. At MIT, we’re close enough to science to know that it cannot conclusively answer the big questions of the universe. It’s those further from science who assume that it can. Conversations with my fraternity brothers centered more on overcoming troubling church experiences, or just simple misconceptions of the gospel. MIT classmates weren’t nearly as hindered by “How do I square the Bible with science?’”
As the two dissected Harris’ book, they took turns each week identifying the author’s underlying assumptions. Before long, Bo’s concerns evaporated.
Church, a Ph.D (or two) and "she said yes!"
Bo continued with Cru after Brian graduated (Bo’s Cru discipleship group reunites regularly to this day), living with believers and joining a church, eventually becoming a deacon. Completing a Master’s degree and then a Ph.D in the field of Biomedical Engineering in the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program, Bo’s research has improved the detection and identification of tracers on cancer cells. He comments:
“After injecting magnetic nanoparticle tracers, my work helps us know their exact concentration, along with identifying them, automatically and unambiguously, so we can have more confidence about what is happening biologically.”
It’s a safe bet that many will benefit from Bo’s hard work, his impressive credentials, and his desire to serve God. As an avocation, Bo would like to establish himself as a voice in the “Faith/Science” discussion in the public forum.
Recent stories of God's handiwork on campuses throughout the Northeast and the world.